A dietitian shares 6 snacks that will help keep your brain in shape

A dietitian shares 6 snacks that will help keep your brain in shape

You may already know that your eating habits can help or reduce your risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes, but you may not know how nutrition can impact brain health. In fact, many studies point to the fact that antioxidant- and nutrient-rich whole foods play an important role in protecting your cognitive functions – thinking, learning, and memory abilities.

Meanwhile, an unhealthy diet full of heavily processed foods — foods containing refined grains and excess added sugar or sodium — can accelerate brain aging. Unfortunately, many common snacks — from pretzels to chips to bars — fall into this camp, so swapping your snack for healthier options is one way to stay alert as you age. Here are some of the best scientifically proven snacks to add to your menu.

Whole grain crackers

Assorted Cookies and Triscuits.
Assorted Cookies and Triscuits.Getty Images

Scientists are studying how diet and nutrition can improve brain health, and the MIND diet has shown impressive results. The MIND diet is a blend of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diets, and has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and preserve cognitive function as you age. The MIND diet includes three or more servings of whole grains a day because they play a role in protecting your brain. This is what makes whole grain crackers a great snack option.

When choosing whole grain crackers, check the ingredient list to make sure a whole grain (like whole wheat or brown rice) is the first ingredient. You can tell a packaged food – like crackers – is less processed if the other ingredients are foods you can buy. For example, Triscuits contain only three ingredients: whole wheat, canola oil and salt. Mary’s Gone Crackers is another solid option; the first two ingredients are brown rice and quinoa.

On the MIND diet, cheese is limited to one serving per week, so pair your crackers with brain-healthy alternatives, like hummus or guac.

Pop corn

Young woman using computer and munching popcorn.
A movie at home goes well with a bowl of popcorn.Vesna Andjic/Getty Images

Yes, popcorn is a whole grain and therefore a great snack to keep your brain in shape. In a study that followed nearly 140,000 adults for six years, those over age 80 who ate the least whole grains had the highest risk of memory loss.

Additionally, another study of adults aged 50 and over found that those who ate the most whole grains (about seven servings a day) were more likely to score higher on a measure of successful aging – including preservation of cognitive function – compared to those who ate the least. whole grains. Whole grains were also associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. This reduction in disease risk is also likely to be a boon to brain health.

Although popcorn itself is a nutritious snack, what you add to it can interfere with its healthiness, so avoid butter and sweeteners. I love this slightly sweet maple corn from Quinn, which satisfies sweet and savory cravings with only 2 grams of added sugar per serving. Another favorite is Skinny Pop, which comes in microwaveable and ready-to-snack options. If you prefer to make your own popcorn in the microwave, try the silicone popper.

pomegranate juice

Pomegranate juice.
Pure pomegranate juice.Liudmyla Yaremenko/Getty Images

Most people need 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit per day, but few people meet these recommendations. To help you on this front, consider including pomegranate juice in your snack. Pomegranate juice can count as one serving of fruit — the rest must come from another form of fruit, like fresh fruit — and it can have a powerful boost.

This ruby ​​red beverage contains phytonutrients that reduce inflammation and protect your cells from damage that can promote brain aging. A small study in people with mild memory problems found that consuming 8 ounces of pomegranate juice daily for a month was associated with improved memory and increased neural activity in the brain. A one-year follow-up study demonstrated that pomegranate juice drinkers retained the ability to learn visual information. In contrast, those who drank a pomegranate juice concoction devoid of polyphenol nutrients experienced a significant decline in this aspect of learning.

To make pomegranate juice a balanced snack, drink it with nuts or use it as a liquid base in a fruit and vegetable protein smoothie made with Greek yogurt, silken tofu, or another protein you like. When shopping, choose pomegranate juice with no added sugar, like this one from POM Wonderful.


Walnuts in a brown bowl.
Walnuts are both great for brain health and look like it too.Getty Images

Among nuts, walnuts may be the best for brain performance. In a review of 22 studies and more than 47,000 people, researchers noted that walnuts were beneficial in people at higher risk of cognitive decline. However, of all the nuts studied, walnuts were most consistently associated with better cognitive health. Another study found that women who ate two or more servings of nuts per week in their late 50s and early 60s were more likely to experience healthy aging – defined as having no reported memory impairment , among others – compared to those who skipped this practice.

Some of the ways diet can improve brain function involve improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, and protecting against oxidative stress — the phenomenon that occurs when you have more free radicals than oxygen. antioxidants. This imbalance can lead to cell damage that increases your risk of cognitive impairment and other chronic health conditions. This is why nuts can be so beneficial. Walnuts contain the most ALA omega-3, which protects against inflammation, and they are also rich in antioxidants that defend against oxidative stress.

Plain nuts make a delicious snack, but you can also season them at home or buy them in fun flavors, like these Maple Crazy Go Nuts, which have a modest 5 grams of added sugar. If you like a little spice in your snack, opt for the Crazy Go Nuts in Buffalo flavor instead.


Bowl of fresh blueberries.
Bowl of fresh blueberries.Getty Images

Blueberries are on the short list of foods to eat when it comes to preserving your memory and thinking skills. In studies, they have been associated with slower rates of cognitive decline and improved memory and executive functioning. Research has also found increased blood flow to certain brain areas of blueberry eaters. The benefits of blueberries begin early in life. There is evidence that children whose diets are supplemented with blueberries experience improvements in memory, attention and reading.

You can snack on blueberries in any form, such as fresh, frozen in a smoothie, dried, or freeze-dried, like these Good & Gathered ones from Target. For a triple brain-boosting snack, add dried or freeze-dried blueberries to a trail mix with nuts and popcorn. As always, when buying forms other than fresh blueberries, look for versions with no added sugars.

Kale Chips

Parmesan Kale Chips.
Parmesan Kale Chips.Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock

Just one serving of leafy greens a day — just over a cup of raw greens or ½ cup of cooked vegetables — can help stave off memory decline as you age, according to one study. Compared to adults who rarely or never ate leafy greens, those who hit this mark had the brain power of people 11 years younger. Scientists believe that phylloquinone, lutein and folate, nutrients abundant in leafy greens, are key to this protective effect.

You can make your own kale chips or buy them ready to eat. Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips deliver the crunch you want in a snack. Kale chips are too delicate to dip in a dip, so pair them with cottage cheese to round out your snack and make it more hearty.

Editor’s note: The author revealed that she is a spokesperson for California Walnuts.

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